From China to Cornell
College students are at the age of self-exploration. Seeing the outside world is good for us as we figure out what we really want in life. That is exactly what is happening to me.
Why did you choose to study at Cornell University?
My parents anticipated that I would go abroad for one semester in my senior year, and so they had planned for this expense. In fact, my parents agreed the first time I talked to them about studying at Cornell. They are confident that I can handle challenges.
Cornell is very expensive compared to Chinese universities. I wanted to make sure not to waste the money my parents invested in this semester. I wanted them to be proud of me. I set two primary goals for the semester: to have a great transcript, and to improve my English speaking and writing skills. Another goal was to learn more about American culture.
Reflecting on my time here, I can say that I saw a lot of things that have totally changed my world view. I’ve always thought that we should have the ability to think independently, but I did not fully realize the value and meaning of this before now.
College students are at the age of self-exploration, and seeing the outside world is good for us as we figure out what we really want in life. That is exactly what is happening to me.
What was something surprising that you saw, learned or experienced at Cornell?
Students at Cornell have a lot of homework, presentations, papers and exams. Frequently we were asked to work in teams, and we were expected to translate what we learned into practice right away. This seldom happens in China.
My courses in China were focused more on mastery of knowledge—for our exams. It seems that the U.S. education system doesn’t value testing as much as networking and teamwork. For example, more freshmen and sophomore students at Cornell have summer internships than they do at Shandong University.
At Cornell, professors have regular office hours. My Cornell professors seemed to love to hear feedback from their students, to meet with you, and to solve problems with you. People at Cornell were enthusiastic, open and active; students freely asked questions and professors seemed to love to answer. In China, students tend to be more humble, silent and not as outgoing.
How do you expect your Cornell experience will affect your future?
While I was at Cornell, I chose to live with an American family so I could improve my spoken English and begin to understand American culture. I was the only one among the five Shandong exchange students at Cornell that semester who didn’t live with the other Chinese students.
This experience helped me master listening and speaking in English.
The first time I went to class, it was very hard for me to understand the whole lecture. By the end of the semester, I could understand 100 percent of lectures and discussions, without much trouble. In the beginning, I used a lot of gestures, but now I can fluently communicate with words.
Confidence is very important. The interview and application speech for my master’s program were all in English. My major is economics, and the capital companies I might work for require great English skills. English fluency gives you a great advantage when you interview.
What advice would you give other international students who are thinking about studying at Cornell?
In class one day my professor asked us, “What were the best and worst days of your life?” I couldn’t remember specifically, it was kind of fuzzy. A lot of days are average days. He explained that he thinks our task is to make our average days happier. I believe that real happiness consists of this—not great achievements, but the daily acts of making life happy.
Every time I move to a new environment, it helps me to better reflect on and understand myself. Once I thought that making as much money as I could was my main life goal. But now, in addition to financial security, I am also considering my social significance and values.